Western Libraries

Primary Source Literacy

Find and Access


Information Literacy Learning Outcome: discovery and critical evaluation

  1. Identify the possible locations of primary sources.
  2. Use appropriate, efficient, and effective search strategies in order to locate primary sources. Be familiar with the most common ways primary sources are described, such as catalog records and archival finding aids.
  3. Distinguish between catalogs, databases, and other online resources that contain information about sources, versus those that contain digital versions, originals, or copies of the sources themselves.
  4. Understand that historical records may never have existed, may not have survived, or may not be collected and/or publicly accessible. Existing records may have been shaped by the selectivity and mediation of individuals such as collectors, archivists, librarians, donors, and/or publishers, potentially limiting the sources available for research.
  5. Recognize and understand the policies and procedures that affect access to primary sources, and that these differ across repositories, databases, and collections.

Where Can Students Find Primary Source Material?

Information Retrieval of Primary Source Materials

Finding Aids

Finding aids are a form of multi-level description that give a brief overview of the information contained within an archival aggregation. Finding aids typically describe the contents, medium, temporal and geographic coverage, creators, contributors, arrangement and historical context for both the creators and aggregation itself. In Canada, finding aids are standardized using Rules for Archival Description.

Library Catalogue (Omni)

A library catalogue keeps track of all of the individual items, or series of items, held by the library. A single catalog record can tell the user the title, author, publisher, publication date, subject, item type, and location of the item. To find materials in our Archives and Special Collections in Omni, navigate to the left hand side of the screen and select "Western & Affiliate Libraries," from there if you click on "Archives" the catalogue will narrow down to only items that are held by the Archives & Special Collections Research Centre.

Archives Holdings Database

Unlike a finding aid, which is a prose document that is meant to be navigated hierarchically, the Archives Holdings Database at Western allows you to search through all record types, at all levels, in our database. The database can be a helpful jumping off point when you don't have an idea of what aggregation you would like to start off with. Just keep in mind that you typically cannot request a single item or file, and will usually have to navigate up the description to request the appropriate materials in the reading room.

Reference Interview (Contact Us)

Sometimes the information you are looking for can be difficult to describe or locate. Did you know that students that consult a librarian get higher grades than those who do not? Archivists and librarians are uniquely trained to find information. They know how to help you narrow down a topic and connect you with the resources that you need for your research. This process is called a research consultation or a reference interview.